I always treat my travel seriously: a couple of months before I start reading travel guides and blogs, compile lists, book activities. The travel to Norway was, of course, well planned too, but the purpose of planning was different: this time I had to make a list of things to NOT see.
Trolltunga, Preikestolen, Geiranger, “Norway in a Nutshell” – open any “10 things to do in Norway” list, and you will find all of them there. It’s not a surprise that these incredible places are struggling with tourist overflow. The good news are you don’t have to join this frenzy to experience the beauty of this land: Norway is a treasure for “wild”, off-the-beaten-track tourism.
I would like to keep the wild things wild, and that’s why I’m not going to write about any specific places here, but rather describe the approach I took for organizing the trip. So… how do you plan an unforgettable adventure among Norway’s fjords without overtourism annoyances?
Limit the time spent in cities
Norway is a huge country but there are only 5 million people living there (that’s like one St. Petersburg). Therefore the cities here are small, and there’s not much to do there. But since all the airports are located in those cities, it is natural to allocate a half or a full day in the arrival/departure locations. In my case those turned out to be Bergen – the second biggest city of the country – and Aalesund which was officially named Norway’s most beautiful city by a national poll.
In Bergen there are not that many sights. The most famous is, of course, Brygge, the old wharf district. In present times it’s full of souvenir shops and tourists…
Another popular place is Mt. Floyen with a city panorama point. Expect large queues here, but it is possible to reduce the waiting time by booking your ticket online.
Good news for museum lovers: Bergen is home to KODE museum group, the largest in the entire Scandinavia.
St. John’s Church is a less popular place. It was nice to visit it because it is quite neat, clean, and well-maintained:
That’s practically it. Also have a walk around normal, non-touristy streets – you will be surprised how deserted they are: everyone is at Brygge or Floyen!
So, as you can see, there is no need to stay in Bergen for long. And Aalesund is even smaller… The main attraction is the center built in art nouveau style:
Aalesund also has a panorama point! The best view you can get from the roof of the hilltop restaurant which is easy to spot from nearly every place in the city. This one will make you walk: there is no way to get to the top, other than climbing more than 400 steps.
If you manage to get in just before the restaurant closes, you will get a great chance to admire Aalesund in the light of the Northern sunset.
I think there is also aquarium somewhere in the city… but the best thing is this speedboat sea safari!
This tiny speedboat got us at 120 km/h to the island of Runde where we tried for about an hour to spot some puffins. Sadly we were not so lucky with puffins this time, but we still managed to see some wild seals and a real seagull colony =) But to be honest, the open speedboat ride was much more exciting than any wildlife we spotted on this trip.
If you still have time in Aalesund, take a small trip to the lighthouse in the city of Alnes.
For a small fee, it is possible to climb the tower. It’s not really breathtaking or anything, but still quite cute, and the fresh sea breeze is refreshing, too.
Oh yes! Don’t forget to check out seafood restaurants in any of the coastal cities! The Norwegian salmon is the main source for most of the European sushi places – wouldn’t it be a shame to miss out on that! Many restaurants keep their fish right next to the kitchen, so it is impossible to beat the freshness of their ingredients.
Keep away from touristic hotspots
Just google “Trolltunga crowded”, “Preikestolen crowds” and such to get what I want to say.
Like that? If not, here is a recipe. Open a map, set the scale so that you can only see 5-6 cities around every fjord. Pick any of them – and go!
Peace and full immersion in the beauty of fjords are guaranteed, and you can forget about inconveniences of mass tourism. Even though it’s only those 10 places that get into every tourist guide, Norway is beautiful literally everywhere, and the most popular fjords are pretty much identical to their less visited neighbors!
Apart from that, Norway’s national parks are unbelievably underrated. Full freedom of movement, untouched nature, pure and wild landscapes – just pick a park and the entry point. Some day I will come back to just set up a tent for a week in a random spot…
Stay with locals
I positively do not understand why everyone says that Norwegians are unfriendly, rude, and hate tourists. Nowhere else have I met more welcoming and nice people. Even in most rural places we did not have any problems speaking English, and the locals were always very proud to tell us of all the amazing places that we should still see in the area. Here is a completely magical place that we only learned about thanks to our Airbnb host:
And small cities might not even have a hotel, so Airbnb and couchsurfing are your friends =)
Travel by car
Since we have already decided that we are not interested in spending the whole week in a city or taking a standard cruise, we will have to figure out the transportation question. Normally I would argue for trains: they are relaxed, comfortable, ecological… But this time I would actually recommend otherwise: the railroad network in Norway is not very big, the trains are slow, and the route would be limited by the proximity to the train stations. A car is a far better choice for setting up the speed of travel, the number and the length of stops in any way you want.
And there are going to be a LOT of stops! A roadtrip in Norway is a great example of a path being more important than the destination. Pay attention to brown road signs – they point to places of interest nearby. Just by this rule, with no planning whatsoever, we managed to see:
1) an awesome glacier;
2) a small, but beautiful and very loud waterfall;
3) a traditional Norwegian stave church;
4) a glacier museum with some exhibitions about glaciers and the climate change;
5) a fjord opening next to some random warehouse, totally deserted (except for seagulls which apparently didn’t like us that much and tried to shoo us away with carpet bombing).
Look out especially for this flower symbol:
It means that you are close to one of the 18 Norwegian Scenic Routes which are just impossibly beautiful roads that go through practically wild nature and are not visited at all by bus tours. Have a look – these are not even edited, they are just ready postcards:
It’s one tough task to focus on the road when all of this is around!
Environmentalists can also have clean conscience: e-car charging stations are really widespread in Norway, so you should not experience any trouble should you rent one =)
Aaaaand… How would you like a fjord cruise for $10? Ferries are a real pleasure in this country =)
Crossing a large fjord takes about half an hour which is enough to have a small break form driving, have a hotdog or an ice cream, and even climb to the roof for views from the middle of the fjord. Absolutely breathtaking! (Or was it just wind?).
Reserve more time than seems needed
As I already said above, traveling through fjords will make you stop inevitably, regularly, and very often. I can recommend to not plan more than 3 driving hours per day per direction.
Who knows, maybe you will decide to kayak on a fjord?
Or spend a couple of hours in a village of real modern vikings?
Or forget the civilized world altogether and hike through wild hills which nearly never see occasional tourists?
Norway roadtrip is a real adventure: you can never know what awaits on the other end of a tunnel.
The most important thing to have with you is a full nature toolkit, icluding good hiking boots: Norwegian national parks have very few marked trails so if you want to hike to the mountains you will have to climb actual rocks which are not always dry and not always stable. It would also be a good idea to take some hiking gloves..
Take a tent even if you don’t plan to stay in the wild overnight: you will totally get this idea once you are in the heart of this rough but beautiful land. I didn’t take one… I regretted a lot!!
Going to a forest, take a knife: there are mushrooms everywhere! The right to pick them is guaranteed by the Norwegian law to all the citizens and guests of the country. In just an hour it is possible to collect enough mushrooms to fill a small pan =)
And, of course, the weather. In Norway even in summer many places will still see snow, and the weathercasts are not very precise. Just imagine these tall cliffs and deep valleys, many thousands of them! When one valley is lit with sunshine, its neighbor might experience a really heavy shower. Fortunately, these problems are solvable with layers of clothes and a waterproof jacket =)
The main attraction of Norway is its unbelievable, pure, wild nature. Prepare yourself for hiking, kayaking, and other active ways to spend time rather than relaxed city walks and museum tours.
And it is the best to enjoy nature when you are alone with it. Luckily, Norway still has a lot of unique, heavenly places, which are still unspoiled by the mass tourism. So I encourage you to travel off the track: I promise you, it is not possible to not fall in love with this country!